Spartanburg, S.C. – Coming off a strong 39-13 season and returning most of the key players from last year's team, the USC Upstate softball team has been picked to finish third in the A-Sun in the preseason coaches poll released today by the conference office. In addition, junior pitcher Hannah Alexander, sophomore first baseman Cheyenne Griffin and sophomore outfielder Shellie Robinson have earned preseason all-conference honors.
Upstate earned 73 points in the preseason coaches poll to be picked to finish third. The Spartans finished third a year ago with a 12-6 record in the A-Sun. Defending regular season and tournament champion Florida Gulf Coast received all 10 first-place votes with 100 points and was picked to win the A-Sun again this season. Kennesaw State, which tied FGCU with a 14-4 mark in A-Sun play last season but got the No. 2 seed in the A-Sun Tournament, was picked to finish second with 89 points.
"The A-Sun is a strong conference from top to bottom and the competition each week will be very tough," said Upstate head coach Chris Hawkins. "We have a lot of experience on our team, but so do the other teams in the conference. It is going to be a tough, challenging season, but one that I am very excited to start."
Lipscomb was picked to finish fourth with 67 points and was followed by Jacksonville (58), Stetson (56), North Florida (40), Northern Kentucky (27), Mercer (27) and ETSU (13).
The selection of Alexander (Lexington, N.C.), Griffin (Moore, S.C.) and Robinson (DeLand, Fla.) to the preseason all-conference team was not that much of a surprise. All three were all-conference selections last season in leading Upstate to a 39-win campaign, including a win over No. 23 Syracuse.
"Hannah, Cheyenne and Shellie played huge roles in the success of the team last season and are more than worthy of being selected as preseason all-conference players this year," said Hawkins. "But, we have a team full of individuals who have the ability to achieve great things and we rely on them to produce every bit as much as those three. The thing that I admire most about Hannah, Cheyenne and Shellie is that they don't let individual accolades get in front of what the goal is, which is for all of our players to do what they need to do to help the team win. Team success is the ultimate goal and all of our players have done a great job of buying into that concept."
Alexander was the ace of the pitching staff last year for Upstate. She led all A-Sun pitchers with 26 wins on the season and was the only pitcher to reach 10 victories during A-Sun play, two more than the next closest pitcher in the league. She finished the year with a 26-7 overall record, 1.76 ERA, 22 complete games, nine shutouts, 206 strikeouts in 203.1 innings pitched and a .204 opponent batting average. She tossed four one-hitters last year.
Alexander, who was named the A-Sun Pitcher of the Week on two occasions and the Pitcher of the Year by College Sports Madness, earned second team all-conference honors last season after earning all-freshman honors in 2011.
Griffin was simply solid as the starter at first base for Upstate in 2012. She hit out of the cleanup spot for most of the season and ranked third in the A-Sun with a .384 batting average en route to earning NFCA Second Team All-Region honors. She was a unanimous first team all-conference selection in the A-Sun and also earned all-freshman honors. She finished the season with 61 hits, 12 doubles, four home runs, 30 RBIs and 19 runs. She was simply outstanding defensively, finishing the year with a .987 fielding percentage. She was equally as strong during conference play as well, hitting a team-best .389 with three of her home runs coming against A-Sun foes.
Robinson was named the A-Sun Freshman of the Year and was a first team all-conference pick in 2012. She was also named the Player of the Year by College Sports Madness after leading the Spartans to a third-place finish in the A-Sun and turning in an impressive offensive season. She was named the preseason player of the year by CSM this year.
Robinson was simply outstanding last season as a freshman. In addition to her conference accolades, she was an NFCA First Team All-Region selection. She finished the year with a gaudy .405 batting average and a Division I era school record 66 hits, 17 home runs and 49 runs scored. She also drove in 41 runs and posted a .816 slugging percentage. A true five-tool player, she ranked second on the team with 14 stolen bases and posted a solid .982 fielding percentage with six outfield assists and just one error. She also had 14 doubles on the year. She led the A-Sun in doubles, runs scored, slugging percentage and total bases, while ranking second in home runs, batting average and on-base percentage. She also ranked in the top 50 in the nation in five different categories.
2013 A-Sun Preseason All-Conference Teams
Preseason Player of the Year: Chelsea Zgrabik (Florida Gulf Coast)
Preseason Pitcher of the Year: Shelby Morgan (Florida Gulf Coast)
Preseason All-Conference: Pitchers – Hannah Alexander (Upstate), Shelby Morgan (Florida Gulf Coast); Catchers – Chelsea Zgrabik* (Florida Gulf Coast); Infielders – Kristen Bembnowski (Florida Gulf Coast), Kelsey Cartwright (Lipscomb), Cheyenne Griffin (Upstate), Kaylee Williams (Kennesaw State); Outfielders – Jessica Barnes (Florida Gulf Coast), Shellie Robinson (Upstate), McKenzie Woody (Mercer); Utility – Sharon Swanson (Kennesaw State). * Unanimous Selection.
|2013 A-Sun Preseason Coaches Poll|
|1.||Florida Gulf Coast (10)||100|